Batwing exercise efficiently strengthens your back

When you hear someone refer to “batwings” at the gym, you might assume they’re referring to someone’s upper arm as a derogatory reference. But this term is a name for one of the most effective bodyweight exercises you can do.

What is it? Lying on your back with your elbows by your sides, you put your weight on your elbows to lift your chest and head off the ground.

It’s that simple. And it targets several muscles in the back of your body: rhomboids (upper back), trapezius (lower back), latissimus dorsi (back), rear deltoids (shoulders), and triceps (upper arms), and your core. Talk about getting a solid return for your time spent stressing.

This is especially useful because, in a world where most of us focus more on the muscles in the front of our body, our posterior chain is often neglected. “We exercise a lot on the front muscles of our body, mainly because that’s the most common direction we move and because that’s what we see when we look in the mirror,” says Danica Osborne, a certified personal trainer and Lifetime Group Training Coach. To elevate, reduce muscle imbalances, prevent back pain, and optimize athletic performance, we must be careful not to neglect our posterior chain.”

The best way to work the batwing into your workout repertoire is to work on a few different variations of the move. This not only spices things up but also keeps your muscles on their toes: you create a new stimulus by changing the correct movements, resulting in muscle adaptation and progression over time. Variation can help prevent overuse injuries. Here are four batting variations that Osborne recommends you rotate regularly if you have access to equipment like resistance bands, TRX straps and a cable machine.

Try these batting variations

Osborne recommends doing three sets of 10 repetitions for each of these.

Standard batting

  1. Lie flat on your back.
  2. Pressing into your elbows, lift your shoulders and lift your head off the mat. Keep your chin away from your chest and roll your shoulders back and down. Make sure your heels stay on the floor.
  3. Pause for one to two seconds at the top before slowly returning to the starting position.

“If you notice that your abdominal muscles are burning when you batwing, a great way to correct this movement is to lift your feet off the floor and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle,” says Osborne.

V-seat resistance band pulldown

  1. Loop a resistance band around a pull-up bar or other secure structure.
  2. Grab each end of the resistance band, then sit under it in a V-position (feet off the floor).
  3. Pull the band toward you while in the V-position.
  4. Pause for one to two seconds before returning to the starting position.

TRX high row

  1. Grab the TRX handles and lean back with your back and legs straight and heels firmly planted on the ground. Hold the palm facing down.
  2. Pull yourself toward the cables with your elbows in line with your shoulders.
  3. Pause for one to two seconds before slowly returning to the starting position.

“To reduce the intensity of this move, walk your feet back,” explains Osborne. “That way, the TRX cables carry less weight as you row.”

Seated lat pulldown

  1. Set a cable in the highest position before sitting or kneeling on the ground. Use a rope wire attachment that you can hold with both hands.
  2. Grab the rope then sit in a reclined V-position with your feet and glutes on the floor.
  3. Pull the rope toward your chest while pointing your elbows back and down.
  4. Pause for one to two seconds before carefully returning to the starting position.

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